Ideology (definitions)

Date: Mon, 19 Feb 1996 06:49:23 -0500
From: Allan Mayberry Greenberg (

Most recently, we have been presented with the idea of ideology as domination. Given the earlier contributions to a definition (I think we are looking at several variations at the moment), I think the characterization of do/ ideology as domination is virtually a truism.

Whether characterized as explanation for a certain situation/state of affairs/ etc., OR description of certain developments/states of being (broadly understood, OR rationalization, it seems to me that there is inevitably a degree of domination, or an effort to control.

If we accept the idea that ideologies may be reactionary, conservative, or progressive in tone (or direction)--I assume that ideologies have as a component a posited ideal state, what are the results of being the proponent of a certain ideology other than convincing other people to move in a certain direction, or to maintain a certain state of affairs. A "successful" ideology is accepted by enough people, or is supported by enough power, to accomplish its end, ergo people have been dominated.

Allan C. Mayberry Greenberg
Curry College
Milton MA 02186
(617) 333-2374


Date: Mon, 19 Feb 1996 13:36:00 -500
From: Richard Swerdlin (

"Ideology", like many other words, may be ambiguous, since uses are not static. I am 66. The reason my age is mentioned is that in my own life time there have been some noticeable changes in uses and implied meanings. More specifically, the term "ideology" was used many years ago to refer to a "definite school of thought". This was neutral in nature however. In recent years, especially on TV, the term "ideology" has been used in a negative manner. A user is impying that an opponent is "narrow" or "biased", if there is adherence to a particular "ideology".

Personally, I do not use the noun "ideology" in writing or speaking. I usually refer to a "school of thought" and then lay out attendant details. Not surprisingly, I also make little use of "isms". Manifestations of that suffix unfortunately often cause an excessive rush of adrenalin. This is especially my observation concerning Internet communication.

Overall, it seems more fruitful than fitful to talk about "particular issues", instead of "isms" or "ideology". By analogy, "modern math" affects some students negatively. However and somewhat amusingly, there is a more open mind when said label is omitted and reference is made to "nondecimal bases" or other taopics which were stressed in the so-called "modern math" movement.

Richard Swerdlin

P.S. "Brothers and sisters" is often a more palatable phrase than "siblings". Thus language retains its awe, even in the era of space travel.


Date: Mon, 19 Feb 96 16:15:22 -0500
From: Hughie Lawson (

Allan Mayberry has identified a difficulty in our discussion of ideology, that the word has been used in several different ways. Yet, we find ourselves writing about the term as if it had an stable essence that by discussion we can identify. Maybe we would do better to identify the ways the term has been used. I want to identify some such uses.

1. The French philosopher Destutts de Tracy used the term to designate an epistemological position with respect to the origins of ideas.

2. Napoleon Bonaparte then used "ideologist" to designate fuzzy-minded subversive intellectuals, esp. those associated with Destutts de Tracy.

3. Karl Marx used ideology to designate philosphical positions that claimed to be statements of natural law (e.g. political economy), but which when unmasked by K.M. could be seen to be "really" deceptive defenses of capitalism.

4. By the early 20th century, some (does this include Lenin?) used ideology as a generic term for more-or-less systematic expositions of some political philosophy. This usage worked its way into political-science courses on comparative ideologies.

5. With respect to #4, Karl Mannheim distinguished in his book of the same title between "ideolgy and utopia", according to whether they defended what already is (the former) or sought to advance a new dispensation (the latter).

6. Unmasking now often seeks to reveal in discourse not explicity political, social, or economic--e.g. fiction and art--a latent defense of some system of domination (colonial, class, gender, whatever). Such latent functions are sometimes labelled "ideological".

Now, I think the commonest disagreement is whether to use the term "ideology" to designate a genre of discourse (the kind that sets forth some fairly systematic defense of an actual or hoped for social-political system); a common alternative is to use "ideology" to designate a quality or function of any kind of discourse. In this alternative "ideology" sometimes designates meanings that serve to establish or sustain systems of domination. But this pejorative sense does not always apply. The myth-and-symbol school in American Studies in its early days often found latent meanings in popular fiction, ceremonies and so on without attempting to discredit such latent meanings. On the contrary one feels in reading say Henry Nash Smith that he generally approves (though not always) of the meanings he uncovers.

So it seems to me that we often argue whether ideology "really is" one of the following:
a. a fairly systemic exposition of an explicitly social-political doctrine;
b. a trait of any kind of discourse, even when it appears something other than a political doctrine.

My view is that "ideology" has been used in so many different ways that present authors may claim respected precedents for very different usages. This means we have to listen carefully to an author to see what he wants to do with the term. We are beyond the point, imho, where a scholarly consensus regulated its use.

Hughie Lawson, Murray State (

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